Martin’s Days are Numbered; Varadkar is the Weak Link? This Government has lost touch with Reality?

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Exclusive: Martin backs Varadkar over Merrion party but trouble is brewing

9th August 2021


Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night broke his silence over the disastrous handling of the Katherine Zappone controversy after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s attempts to draw a line under the crisis failed following a car-crash Six One interview.Leo Varadkar, Micheal Martin are posing for a picture© Provided by Extra.ie

And Mr Martin is coming under renewed pressure within his own party after high-profile backbencher Barry Cowen called on him to immediately convene a Cabinet meeting to take control of a saga that is now entering its third week.

A Cabinet source last night said the damaging affair has created a ‘them-and-us scenario’ at a time when people are being told they cannot attend Communion and Confirmation ceremonies. In an exclusive interview, Mr Cowen said the Zappone affair and Mr Varadkar’s attendance at the controversial event at the five-star Merrion Hotel had damaged the Government’s ‘credibility’ in dealing with Covid-19.Micheal Martin, Leo Varadkar are posing for a picture: Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night broke his silence over the disastrous handling of the Katherine Zappone controversy after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s attempts to draw a line under the crisis. PIC JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY© Provided by Extra.ie Taoiseach Micheál Martin last night broke his silence over the disastrous handling of the Katherine Zappone controversy after Tánaiste Leo Varadkar’s attempts to draw a line under the crisis. PIC JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY

Another Government source said: ‘It’s ruined the Government’s credibility as they are refusing to suffer the privations the rest of us are.’

Meanwhile, documents released under Freedom of Information have revealed how one TD – whose name has been redacted – refused to wear a mask while walking through the corridors of Leinster House, sparking complaints from Oireachtas employees.

As the fallout from the controversy continues, Extra.ie has learned that the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) is considering taking a new legal action against the Government. A senior industry source indicated an earlier action taken by the RAI over the reopening of indoor dining may now be reviewed in light of the lost earnings suffered by members who were not aware they could take bookings for groups of up to 200 people outdoors.

And despite the Government’s statement on Friday that it plans to allow Communions and Confirmations to resume from next month, the Archbishop of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, has hit out at the Government’s ‘disrespectful’ guidelines.Micheal Martin wearing a suit and tie: Extra.ie has learned that the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) is considering taking a new legal action against the Government. Pic: Julien Behal/PA Wire© Provided by Extra.ie Extra.ie has learned that the Restaurant Association of Ireland (RAI) is considering taking a new legal action against the Government. Pic: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Writing in today’s Mail on Sunday, Archbishop Farrell said: ‘I believe the guidelines are disrespectful of the thousands of families for whom the sacraments are important milestones in the faith lives of our young people. They are disrespectful of the sense of responsibility of these parents to act in the best interests of their families. They are disrespectful of the wider community of faith, whose religious liberty is curtailed.’

The Taoiseach last night finally broke his silence on the controversy, saying the Merrion Hotel event ‘did not breach regulations’.

On Friday, Mr Varadkar said the event was ‘probably’ not in breach of the guidelines.

The previous day, Fine Gael senator Seán Kyne had said the 50-person gathering at the five-star hotel did not meet Covid-19 guidelines, further adding to the confusion.

Mr Martin said: ‘In relation to the events of last week, the Tánaiste expressed his regret at attending the Merrion Hotel outdoor event.

‘While the event did not breach regulations, the Government accepts that further clarity and consistency on guidelines was required.’

The Taoiseach added: ‘As we move forward, personal responsibility will be a key factor. The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and Deputy CMO have made the point to me consistently that the original guidance on social distancing, wearing of masks indoors and taking precautions will be essential in the weeks and months ahead.’

However, Mr Martin is facing further disquiet within the ranks of his own party over the controversy.

In an exclusive interview, former agriculture minister Barry Cowen, who was sacked by Mr Martin a year ago, called on the Taoiseach to take control of the spiraling crisis.a man wearing a suit and tie: Mr Martin is coming under renewed pressure within his own party after high-profile backbencher Barry Cowen called on him to immediately convene a Cabinet meeting to take control of the saga. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins© Provided by Extra.ie Mr Martin is coming under renewed pressure within his own party after high-profile backbencher Barry Cowen called on him to immediately convene a Cabinet meeting to take control of the saga. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins

The Fianna Fáil TD said his party leader was ‘blindsided’ by the botched appointment.

And like many within Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael who have chosen not to speak on the record, Deputy Cowen said he cannot understand why the Government has wasted so much political capital on a figure who has no power.

Mr Cowen said: ‘It is hard to believe this wound was so brutally self-inflicted when the appointment of Ms Zappone could have been rejected or postponed at the Cabinet meeting, pending receipt of a wealth of further information, when initially proposed by Minister Simon Coveney.

‘That’s notwithstanding having overlooked the Taoiseach being blindsided, which in itself was enough to reject the proposal.’

Mr Cowen has also made the serious charge that the Attorney General’s intervention was used to rescue a ‘floundering’ Government.

It comes after Attorney General Paul Gallagher this week took the unprecedented step of issuing legal opinion on Covid-19 restrictions.

‘It appeared that the Government was floundering in its attempts to explain Merrion event was within guidelines and the Attorney General eventually saved the day,’ said

Mr Cowen. ‘It is deeply worrying that the minister who introduced the regulations was having such difficulty explaining them, even to an Bord Fáilte, after attending.’

Mr Cowen believes the damaging revelations since Ms Zappone’s appointment, which she has since walked away from, has ‘undoubtedly impacted the Government’s credibility in policing and enforcing regulations’.

He added: ‘The Taoiseach must convene the Cabinet, acknowledge recent failures, regain control and respond to the apparent inconsistencies in regulations highlighted by the Merrion Hotel function.

‘Equally, he can take advantage of what has in fairness been a Herculean effort by the health service in dealing with Covid and the magnificent vaccination programme.

‘But, meanwhile, he can go back to drawing board and revise regulations on Communions, Confirmations, weddings and other areas where there are failings. He can then hope to regain the confidence of the people.’

Mr Cowen also called for a timetable to be put in place to cater for the entertainment industry outdoors, along with provisions for a phased return of indoor entertainment.

The former minister – and key Fianna Fáil leadership totem – said he was not speaking out as ‘a disgruntled backbencher with a grudge’, but as a ‘representative of those who afford me that privilege in Laois-Offaly, and indeed many members of Fianna Fáil who’ve been unnerved in recent weeks by these events’.Leo Varadkar wearing a suit and tie walking on a sidewalk: Mr Martin is facing further disquiet within the ranks of his own party over the controversy. Pic: JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY.© Provided by Extra.ie Mr Martin is facing further disquiet within the ranks of his own party over the controversy. Pic: JULIEN BEHAL PHOTOGRAPHY.

While a growing number of Fianna Fáil TDs and some Cabinet members who spoke to us this weekend said they agreed with the sentiments expressed by Mr Cowen, no one else has come forward to publicly outline their views.

Mr Cowen, coming from a political dynasty that stretches back through his brother, former taoiseach Brian Cowen, his father and grandfather, has significant standing in Fianna Fáil. The Laois-Offaly TD also believes there is a role for the Foreign Affairs Committee to investigate Ms Zappone’s appointment. And he said this process should not be neglected just because she has stood back.

‘The committee should still proceed with a meeting on the issue,’ said Mr Cowen.

‘We should be told when, how and why such a role was considered necessary. We should also be told who was detailed to investigate the necessity for the role with the Department of Foreign Affairs.’

Meanwhile, the Tánaiste is also coming under pressure within his party over the controversy.

Fine Gael insiders believe the controversy has accelerated a decline in confidence in Mr Varadkar within an increasingly divided party.

The Tánaiste attempted to put the Merrion-gate controversy to bed via an interview on RTÉ’s Six One news on Friday evening.

But his declaration that he had let his guard down in attending, and that the event was ‘probably’ not in breach of guidelines, has failed to quell an increasingly mutinous mood within his party.

One Fine Gael source said: ‘The sense is growing that Leo is running out of political credit. Support for him inside and outside Fine Gael is ebbing away.’

Another senior party source added: ‘There is a growing sense of unease that the Tánaiste’s political antennae are scrambled. He’s been at the top too long. He has lost contact with the people and the party.

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